Intercept Fabric Rescue founder Jenny Hill shows off her DIY jacket.
Northlanders have been fast to pick up the pace of the slow-fashion movement, so the Northern Advocate set out to talk to our locals who are leading the movement.
New Zealand sends about 100,000 tonnes of clothing to landfills each year — about 44kg per person.
Clothing from some stores is so affordable, there is no incentive to repair items with basic damage. On average clothing is worn only seven times before it’s dumped and the incredible acceleration of trends has clothes racks turning over weekly in fast-fashion stores.
The fashion industry hasn’t become the mammoth empire it is without the help of all of us, lapping up cheap clothes and short trends over quality and connection to a piece.
But some Northlanders are doing their part to change the tide in the cycle of a clothing piece’s life.
Buying clothes built to last
The relationship between garment and maker is fundamental to Whangārei pop-up Papa Clothing, according to founder Keva Rands.
“Ever since day one … whatever I was going to do had to have a considerate impact on the environment,” Rands said.
Rand’s childhood helped form her approach to her brand, she grew up in an ecovillage in Matapouri and her parents are owners of the Ecostore brand.
“That’s why for a long time I was doing made to order so that there was no waste and that’s why now I am just focusing on all-natural materials that are used in small runs, I’m not making huge amounts of clothes still,” Rands said.
Rand’s clothing is made in Aotearoa from 100 per cent natural fibres; linen, cotton, wool and silk, meaning garments will break down organically at the end of their lifecycle.
Rands said looking at the labels on clothes can sometimes help consumers determine the quality of a piece they’re thinking about buying.
“I would definitely always look at the care label and see what it’s made out of.
“You might see a thermal top in a store and be like, ‘Oh, that looks nice, and it’ll be warm for winter’, and then you’ll see it’s made out of 100 per cent acrylic instead of something like merino.”
Papa Clothing garments are built with longevity in mind and constructed locally using quality materials, and the price point reflects that.
“I think the main issue with fast fashion versus slow fashion is the accessibility because clothes like mine do take a little bit of saving to be able to afford.
“People that are saving and investing in slow fashion are just so awesome.”
Searching the secondhand market for quality clothes is a more affordable option, although has become increasingly difficult as thrift stores and op shops have become flooded with poorly made fast fashion.
Online platforms such as Trade Me and Facebook Marketplace as well as Depop and Designer Wardrobe give you the ability to search for specific brands and styles without having to wade through racks of fast fashion.
On the other hand, if you have a spare 50k for a Hermes Birkin bag, Webb Auctions is the way to go.
Extending the life of clothes
Whangārei’s Salvation Army Family Store is home to upcycling clothing charity concept Intercept, started by a group of fabric artists and environmental activists including Jenny Hill.
“The Salvation Army gets about 10 tonnes of fabric donated a year — which is a lot — but a lot of it cannot be used. It might have a hole in or a few missing buttons, but they don’t have the time to spend repairing them, but we can.”
Hill said when she started the scheme she wasn’t sure if there would be enough quality old clothes to repair or enough demand from people to buy the repaired items. Neither of these has turned out to be an issue.
“People just buy clothes without thinking of the cost.”
Intercept tries to save as much of the natural fibre fabric and speciality vintage pieces from landfill as they can. Hill is a fulltime volunteer and spends her days soaking clothes in buckets, ironing and mending them for resale.
“If it’s vintage, I allow synthetics through because I believe if it’s lasted the long without pilling it’s quite good quality.
“Not only are you rescuing it from turning into trash, you’re honouring it.”
Hill also pointed out that natural fabrics are much more comfortable and forgiving in the Northland climate.
“Polyester will just make you stink overnight. It’s horrible stuff to wear, it’s sticky, the only thing going for it is you don’t need to iron it.”
To prevent the need for ironing natural fabrics Hill recommends using a gentle wash cycle and then hanging the garment straight on a hanger to dry.
Whangārei Bernina co-owner Sandy Robinson suggested slow fashion can be more than just op-shopping, and you can always start with something from your own wardrobe.
“Fast fashion follows the trends, all the seasons and can be quite low quality … slow fashion is your upcycle, recycle … you’ve got an old pair of jeans but you’re going to make them into something different.”
Robinson said there’s been a surge in people looking at alternatives to buying new due to the increasing cost of living.
Buying a pre-made, travel or emergency sewing kit will get you started with all of the basic sewing equipment you need, without the need to do your own research.
“It’s not just about using the garment in a new way, but it’s using the fabric.”
Whangārei Bernina offers a range of sewing, crocheting and knitting classes as well as online tutorials.
DIY embroidery, lace, and adding a pocket are all things Robinson suggests can help repair or change up an old clothing item, with the help of learning two basic types of stitches.
“The basic running stitch and a basic application stitch, which is actually blanket stitch, in our older language. With those two, you can do an awful lot.”
When it comes to making something home made last, Robinson echoed the points of both Hill and Rands: fabric choice is everything.
“Don’t start with crappy fabric, otherwise it will fall apart quickly. If you actually invest in buying good fabric, good thread, your clothes will last longer no matter what.”